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John Dolva

Cuba : Note from the Ministry of the Interior

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Havana. July 31, 2012

Note from the Ministry of the Interior

AS reported in the newspaper Granma, at 13:50 on July 22, a Hyundai Accent automobile, tourism registration No: T31402, left the road and crashed into a tree in a section of the Las Tunas-Bayamo highway in the proximity of Las Gabinas, Granma province. Cuban citizens Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante died in this regrettable accident, while foreigners Ángel Francisco Carromero Barrios and Jens Aron Modig, of Spanish and Swedish nationality, respectively, suffered minor injuries.

choque.jpg

The impact substantially deformed the

car’s chassis and roof.

choque2.jpg

Back view of the vehicle showing damage

resulting from impact with the tree

During the investigation into the incident, it was confirmed that the vehicle left Havana at 6:00 am that day, driven by Ángel Carromero, headed for Santiago de Cuba. Jens Aron was traveling in the front passenger seat, Oswaldo Payá in the left back seat with Harold Cepero beside him. Payá and Cepero were not wearing seatbelts.

The section of the highway where the accident took place was being repaired and the road surface area was unpaved for a stretch of approximately two kilometers, converting it into a kind of causeway with a large volume of gravel and therefore, extremely slippery. The police report revealed that the area is a straight road with good visibility and that there was a sign indicating that maintenance work was underway, preceded by other similar signs alerting drivers to the sections under repair.

In these situations, Paragraph 2 of Article 127, Road Safety Law 109 establishes, "Vehicles must not be driven at a speed greater than 60kph on dirt roads or causeways," and in Article 128 that, "Without prejudice to what is established in previous articles in relation to general speed limits, persons in charge of a vehicle or animal on the road must have full control of its movement and are obliged to reduce speed and if necessary stop, whenever traffic, the condition of the road or visibility make that imperative… Particularly when the surface is slippery due to water, oil, sand, mud or other substances or when these can be projected toward other vehicles or pedestrians."

The police report and statements from three witnesses to the accident: José Antonio Duque de Estrada Pérez, Lázaro Miguel Parra Arjona and Wilber Rondón Barrero, established that the automobile hit the section under repair at an excessive speed. In this context, Captain Jorge Fonseca Mendoza, police officer at the scene (with 12 years’ experience), noted that the driver braked suddenly 80 meters after entering the section under repair, lost control of the vehicle, which skidded 63 meters to the left side of the highway, with the front of the car toward the curb and the back part toward the center of the road, crashing into a tree on the right hand side of the highway, thus confirming the extremely high speed at which it was being driven.

José Antonio Duque de Estrada, a worker at the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH), who lives in the Granma municipality of Río Cauto and was passing by the scene of the accident on a bicycle, stated at the Court preliminary hearing:

"The car passed me at high speed, it was definitely traveling at more than 100kph. It overtook a tractor also going in the same direction and afterwards I saw a tremendous cloud of dust when it entered a section in bad condition. As I got closer and the dust was clearing, I saw the car crashed into a tree on the curb. As I see it, the clearest reason for the accident is excessive speed. Entering the section under repair is not the same as being on a paved road, braking was no use, the car went out of control, skidded and crashed into the tree."

Lázaro Miguel Parra Arjona, the INRH tractor driver and a resident of La Sal, Yara municipality, confirmed this statement. "The car overtook me at high speed; then I saw a heavy cloud of dust and when it cleared I could see the vehicle crashed into the tree on the shoulder."

Both José Antonio and Lázaro were traveling in the same direction as the crashed vehicle, but Wilber Rondón Barrero, a Río Cauto campesino, was approaching from the opposite direction, at about 100 meters from the site of the accident. "When I got closer, I saw the car skid out of control and hit a tree on the shoulder," he stated.

A team from the Criminal Investigations Department including Lieutenant Colonel Misael Fontes Pérez from the Damage, Explosions and Fire Section (19 years of police experience); Lieutenant Colonel Inardi Reyes Uriarte, head of Granma Criminal Investigations Provincial Section (11 years of police experience), and Captain Jorge Fonseca, working with Fidel Núñez Guevara, head of Traffic Engineering in Granma province (9 years’ police experience), categorically concluded that the automobile was being driven at excessive speed and that the vehicle presented a dent of 67 centimeters in width and 45 centimeters in depth on the left back side, perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the car (where the passengers who died were traveling), resulting from a heavy blow which substantially deformed the chassis and roof, the characteristics and dimensions of which matched the shape of the tree trunk in question.

The forensic report states that Oswaldo Payá died instantly from cranial trauma resulting from a heavy impact, while Harold Cepero died in the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Clinical-Surgical Hospital in Bayamo from acute respiratory failure resulting from a pulmonary embolism in the upper left lung, derived from the fragmented fracture of his left femur.

Ángel Francisco Carromero stated at the preliminary hearing that he did not recall having seen signs warning about the condition of the highway. He added that he hit the section under repair at a speed he could not specify, given that he was not watching the speedometer and, upon realizing that he was traveling on a gravel surface, he tried to reduce speed by applying the brakes and the vehicle began to skid until it crashed into the tree. Jens Aron stated that he was asleep when he felt the braking and the lateral movement of the vehicle; he then lost consciousness.

Based on a logical analysis of the duration of the journey (close to 800 kilometers in less than eight hours, with three stops), witness statements and the police report from the scene of the incident, plus the vehicle, the investigative team concluded that Ángel Francisco Carromero Barrios must have driven at an average speed of 120 kilometers per hour and that his lack of attention to controlling the vehicle, excessive speed and the incorrect decision to apply the brakes suddenly on a slippery surface were the causes of this tragic accident which cost the lives of two human beings.

The investigation into the accident, and court proceedings, are continuing in accordance with Cuban law.

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